I have recently become lovingly reacquainted with Beef Jerky. I know it sounds low brow and one notch above a Slim Jim, and truly it is - but I’ll tell you – it’s finger lickin’ good. And I feel like a wild animal eating it – which has a certain kind of charm. You have to smack and chew and really work those molars to break down its sinewy texture. Can you say CAR-NI-VORE?
My excellent friend, Kelley, turned me back on to it. I used to eat beef jerky years ago when I was a kid. I don’t know why – but I did. I used to eat Slim Jims too – until I was old enough to read labels. Jerky and “Jims” I put on a parallel with Marlboro Lights – I quit – but give me one, and I can start right back up again.
Here’s what happened. We had just finished a healthy run in the park when Kelley informed me that she had something in the way of food for me in her car. Now to Collins, a gift of food, like cash, is always welcomed and never out of style.
Imagine my surprise when Kelley presented me with a zip lock bag of handsomely browned, beautifully rendered, strips of real beef jerky! I hadn’t been eating a lot of meat at the time and I thought – of all things – jerky. There’s goes my high falutin’ healthy menu of organic mung beans and tofu croquettes. So as you can imagine, the jerky looked really good.
With a bit of trepidation, I tried it. A few seconds of chewing and then… party in my mouth. The texture! The taste! The gnawing!
Then Kelley laid it on me, “I made it myself.”
What? Is that possible?
“You can make jerky?” I asked, still gnawing and totally impressed.
I always pictured jerky being made in - I don’t know – Appalachia? Right next to the still, or somewhere in Texas, in a special jerky barn with big antlers on the front door. To make it at home, twisted my whole jerky conception. Egad. Is nothing as it seems?
“Oh yeah,” said Kelley, “I’ve been making it for a while.”
A while? I looked at her in amazement. Man, you think you know someone and then BAM! You find out they’re jerky makers.
“How the hell do you do it? I asked tearing into another piece, my knees almost buckling from the incredible taste.
“It’s easy,” Kelley said, with the sage-like tone of a Jerky Master, “I just buy whatever’s on sale, marinate it overnight and then cut it in strips and lay it over metal racks in the oven. Cook it on low for about eight hours and - voila! Jerky!”
Voila indeed. “I MUST have the recipe!” I said, my eyes bugging and mouth still chewing.
That night Kelley emailed me the recipe. I skimmed it. There were pictures and tons of marinates to choose from. Did I want Teriyaki? Lemon Grass and Chili? Spicy Hot? Barbecue? I choose barbecue. Since I didn’t have the meat or the barbecue sauce, I was off to Publix. (Doesn’t it seem like you go to Publix about 800 times a week and you still don’t have any food?) I picked out a bottle of random barbecue sauce and headed off to the meat department. I then asked the guy with the hairnet to slice me some flank steak – like the recipe said. I was being cost-conscious too. The recipe also said – “Why pay big money for jerky when you can make it at home?”
Oh, yeah? The flank steak cost me $17.00! I figured, ah, what the flank. I’ll have enough jerky to survive in a bunker for a month or two. Three if I don’t eat breakfast.
I was supposed to marinate the meat for 8 hours. I marinated the meat for about two hours, ‘cause I had jerky fever and wanted it NOW.
Kelley told me she uses metal cooking racks that she places on cookie sheets, so the air can get underneath the meat - drying and cooking it properly. I didn’t have those – so I lined my oven on the bottom with aluminum foil and placed the dripping meat slices directly on the oven racks that come with the oven. I put the heat on low, and sat back to anticipate how fabulous my jerky would taste.
About an hour and a half later, my house was filled with smoke and a smell that I can only imagine would be similar to cooking sweaty tennis sneakers. I tiptoed over to my oven, Alfred Hitchcock music playing in the background; slowly I open the oven door. I was immediately overcome by a gust of putrid smoke! Euw. Some of the jerky had fallen off the rack as it shrunk; some had welded itself onto the metal racks. None looked delicious. All were smoking.
But I don’t give up easily. Grabbing a long fork, I stabbed one of the pieces of meat to see if it tasted as bad as it looked. Well…..it did. (And then some.) In a desperate attempt to save my precious jerky, I yanked it all from the oven, threw it back into a bowl, doused it with Teriyaki sauce and sentenced it back into the oven.
(Three hour later.)
Lynard Skynard’s “Ooh that Smell” kept playing in my head. This was not good. The jerky was supposed to be in the oven another 4 hours – but it already looked like leather off an old moccasin. I took it out and tasted it. Hmm…it was different. Perhaps an acquired taste? If you had a taste for old moccasins. I cooled it on a pretty plate, hoping osmosis might change its complexion.
But I had a plan. I decided to give a few strips to a friend of mine, who will eat just about anything. I didn’t tell him I made it. After a small bite, he had this to say. “I don’t know where you got this Collins – but I hope you can get your money back.”
Still undaunted, I knew someone that would love my jerky, welcome it in fact. I went to my mom’s house. “Where’s the dog? “ I asked.
I took a strip of meat out of my zip lock bag (Ha! to keep it fresh?) and beckoned my mother’s poodle. I tossed a strip of jerky to the dog and waited for the adoration and love that was sure to follow. The poodle sniffed at the jerky, gave me a pissed- offed look, and simply walked away and went to lie down in a corner.
The next day Kelley called me. “How’d the jerky come out?” she asked.
“It was other worldly,” I answered. (Yeah, hell.) “But I found a much better way to do it, and a real time saver too!”
“I’m buying it at the store.”
And that’s the View from this Jerked Around Broad.
P.S. If you, my dear reader, wants to try making jerky, despite my little meat melee, then here’s an awesome and hilarious link that should do you well. But DON’T use your oven!!
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